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October 27, 2007


Spidra Webster

HAR. We just call them farmers markets around here, but when I've read about the history of Japanese-Americans in California, I was exposed to the term "truck farming". I've always assumed this means the kind of farm where the farmer is selling directly to the consumer. However, looking on Wikipedia, I see that the old proverb about what you do when you ASSume is true:


Heather Gorringe

Now thats interesting - from what I've seen a lot of what we imagine to be the case in farming simply isn't how it is - when you think of your chicken you imagine it pecking out on grass eating slugs and bugs - not bred in a house with 30000 other birds. When you think of beef cattle you imagine them out on grass, not in the Feedlot.

As far as I can see for the farming who is comfortable with his/her product and the way it is reared, social media can be a great way to converse about how their product is produced and how the animal was reared. For those farmers who wouldnt eat their own produce, and are not comfortable to share how their animals are kept... time for a rethink on the method, social media will not be an opt out - whether you like it or whether you dont, folks are talking about it anyway!

Spidra Webster

I think there's no doubt that social media and internet formats that allow the farmer to communicate directly with the consumer and with other farmers could be very useful. I live in one of regions that adopted the World Wide Web earliest so it's very difficult for me to gauge how that's going elsewhere in the United States. Here, a number of the farmers, artisan cheesemakers, ranches, etc. have webpages. Some even have webstores where the customer can buy direct. There are all sorts of mailing lists for people who grow a certain thing (The North American Food Explorers list includes not only hobbyists, but has people who run commercial orchards and berry farms as subscribers.) But I don't know what things are like when you really get out in the sticks. And, at least in the U.S., the family farm really became an endangered species in the 20th century. (It might be experiencing a little mouth-to-mouth resuscitation in the 21st century...) I would think agribusiness doesn't really need social media, or not the same kind of social media, to communicate with its members and supply chain -- it has a well-established way of operating -- the same way corporations have behaved throughout the 20th century and into the 21st. At least that's my theory as to why when you go to a site like http://www.localharvest.org there's a big hole in the middle of the US. I posit it's because that's where the most agribusiness monocropping goes on. They have no interest in reaching the consumer or other farmers because they're more interested in interacting with Cargill, ADM or Monsanto.

I think if you look at small business farms and family farms in California, at least, you'll find real entrepreneurs who are willing to use the Internet as one arrow in their quiver of business tools. If they aren't having luck simply approaching the supermarkets, they'll go directly to consumers via the farmers markets all over our state and at the booth they'll have their cards and brochures that mention their websites and email addresses. Some have built real brand recognition at the farmers markets and customers now seek them out by name.

Part of what makes this work in Northern California is that in the SF Bay Area especially, we have a tradition of being real foodies. Even the working class here will sometimes pay more for something they could get cheaper at the supermarket - they'll pay more if it's fresher, healthier, better-tasting, more sustainably produced, etc. And they're aware of these issues partly because the Bay Area food writers, restaurant reviewers, ecology reporters, etc. cover these issues. And if a farmer gets covered in the SF Chronicle and the farm or ranch or artisan cheesemaker has a website, the website address is printed in the article (and the online version of the article). So people can pop over. Savvy farmers have a good and easy-to-use website ready and waiting for customers and potential customers.

After typing all this, I realize I'm not really typing specifically about Web 2.0 stuff here. I've seen no Facebook for Farmers, no Orkut for Orchardists. Maybe such things exist. I just don't know. But I can say that social media is sure helping hobby farmers, permaculturalists and others interested in growing food for their own use and the use of their community together. Tribe.net is full of tribes for urban farming, permaculture, etc. Myfolia.com, a UK site which is beta testing, has the potential to bring lots of hobby farmers together.

One problem I'm having in my new position as co-president of the Golden Gate chapter of the CA Rare Fruit Growers is the split between those who feel comfortable with computer and internet technology and those who don't. It tends to correspond to age, but not one-to-one. Internet mailing lists, blogs, and the like are faster and cheaper ways for us to get the word out to our members. And cheap is important for a small non-profit group like us. But there are folks who want the paper newsletter to be snail mailed to them no matter what (esp. no matter that they themselves haven't volunteered to produce, collate, and mail the newsletter ever...) Then, even with those who are comfortable with the Internet, some prefer one site or technology over another so we haven't been able to get a critical mass of members on one forum or one list or one blog. So that's another problem.

I imagine those problems exist for farming groups as well, if not existing even MORE in farming groups.

Heather Gorringe

Thanks so much for your comment. As with all these ideas it comes back to being customer driven. If the customer is a "foodie" she will pay more for her food and choose it with more care. My question is how did the customer become a "foodie"? I think bearing in mind foodies tend to group together this is because of "word of mouth". Social media gives us "Word of Mouth" on a global scale. Therefore if we can use social media to inspire worldwide "foodies" they will choose to spend more of their budget on sustainable good wholesome products and the farmers will benefit. At the same time we need to convince the farming community that it is actually beneficial to talk to consumers worldwide too even if they only sell within a 10 mile radius. A marketing budget is perfectly possible, reasonable and justifiable, and even better than that the email, the web, the social media can SAVE money. For me Farmers Markets are a good thing but extremely labour intensive. I also dont see that going back to the old days where you took a day out trudging to market to survive for the next week at all appealing. To me farmers needs to use technology where possible to forge new communities, to innovate in terms of distribution, and to join the conversation. Sometimes this will be for their direct benefit, sometimes for the good of the industry.

Spidra Webster

> My question is how did the customer become a "foodie"?

Around here it seems to be about traditional media (at the start...there was no World Wide Web when the Bay Area's foodieism originated). The SF Chronicle is not a world-class newspaper despite the fact that the SF Bay Area has TONS of great writers and muckraking reporters who live here. So the Food section and Home & Garden section shine in comparison. The food writers around here plug not only restaurants but food politics. The first place I heard of the Slow Food movement, of Alice Waters, of the 100 Mile Diet was the Food section of the SF Chronicle. I think it builds an awareness so that people look out for a particular fruit or vegetable or artisan cheesemaker or sustainable ranch. I can't afford to go to 99.9% of the restaurants that the SF Chronicle reviews. Yet the things the Food section reviewers talk about in restaurant reviews and in general cooking articles influence what I buy and where I shop.

>For me Farmers Markets are a good thing but extremely labour intensive. I also dont see that going back to the old days where you took a day out trudging to market to survive for the next week at all appealing.

As things are currently structured, I can see that. However, Farmers Markets are about more than just buying food, at least in the US. They're social events, passagiatas, time with the family, etc. They're social for the farmers as well. The different farms, bakeries, honeymakers, etc. all know each other from the circuit and are like a family. Then there's also the social element between farmers and customers (esp. regular customers). It's a way for farmers to get direct feedback from customers. They don't have to take a supermarket's word for what's selling or not -- they can see themselves. They can see which factors influence consumers.

Because of my RSI (Repetitive Strain Injury), I don't get to the farmers market as often because I would have problems carrying the groceries as far as I'd have to even though I only live 7 blocks or so from the nearest farmers market. However, friends of mine who live in this same neighborhood take their daughter to the farmers market in Berkeley both days it's on - Tuesday and Saturday. It's a good excuse for exercise, their young daughter loves it, and they get fresh produce. They're vegetarians so the quality of their produce is even more important. We have some outstanding local supermarkets (Monterey Market, Berkeley Bowl) that have world-renowned produce sections but they're madhouses to shop in. It's a lot mellower going to the farmers market. You often can get in and out of the farmers market faster than the supermarket.

In Ep. 24 of the Wiggly podcast, a listener wrote in saying, among other things, that you "can't turn the clock back". However, I think that with peak oil we're going to have to in some respects. One respect is having people living in more walkable neighborhoods. In Berkeley you can see many former early 20th century retail shop buildings that have been converted into rental housing. You can see that there used to be greengrocers and butchers in every neighborhood but with the triumph of the supermarket, they went out of business. I believe these existing properties should be re-converted to local business space again. When people can just pop out of their houses and pick up local produce, meat and cheese, they'll find it a much more pleasant shopping experience than the supermarket, I'm sure. I don't know if you ever saw "1940s House" but the wife/granny of that family so enjoyed the retro shopping experience from that living experience that she switched to patronizing local shopkeepers when she returned to her modern living experience.

I'm not anti-technology. (Hell, I'm clearly addicted to the Internet.) I think there are new technologies that will be wonderful and help us cope with the mess we and our forebears have made of the Earth. But there are old ways of doing things that I think we'll have to go back to because they're the most sustainable and make the most sense.

Spidra Webster

Whoops! I forgot to mention something happening locally (and non-locally) that is a classic example of how to stoke customer desire for locally grown, sustainably grown/raised, and artisan food products:

There's a free magazine that started here in just the last year or so. It's printed on lovely thick paper, printed in beautiful color, and has good and interesting articles. It's called Edible East Bay. Apparently there are local versions of this free magazine in many cities and metropolitan areas in the U.S. http://ediblecommunities.com It's a good example of what can be done in the UK as well, I think.

Another thing that occurred to me is having a calendar for heirloom breeds of livestock and poultry. The combination of the Thanksgiving rush for free-range heirloom turkeys and listening to Wiggly podcasts naming various breeds of cattle and sheep has made me do a lot of late night Googling to check out these breeds. I hit the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy to find out about heirloom turkeys and I've hit the Rare Breed Survival Trust site as well (and a New Zealand equivalent).




I'm not in the least a farmgirl but I find this stuff interesting. It's the time of year that people are shopping for calendars and instead of just buying whatever is on sale in January, I decided to look around for something better than what's been leftover around here. Of course there are loads of animal calendars. People who haven't a farming bone in their bodies buy calendars with cow or duck pictures, for instance. Why not capitalize on that by putting out a calendar for heirloom cattle breeds? Each month has a different endangered breed with information about when it was first bred, the advantages and disadvantages of the breed, etc.? The calendar can have dates written in it like when Open Farm Sunday is. I think there could be a calendar that wasn't one kind of animal only, either. Having one month be a cattle breed, a sheep breed, a goose breed, etc. would be very educational. It's a way to get the information out and pique people's curiosity about these breeds.

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